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Episode 801: Sponges: Oldest Creatures in the Sea?

They come in all different colors, shapes and sizes. Many of us have used them to bathe or clean with, and the most famous one is SpongeBob SquarePants, a cartoon character who entertains children from his pineapple in the sea. But have you ever given sponges much thought? Until recently there was scientific consensus that sponges were the first animals to branch off the “Animal Tree of Life,” a kind of family tree for all living and extinct animals on earth. But recent DNA research has cast doubt on that theory, with some scientists suggesting that ctenophores, also known as comb jellies, are an older lineage.


Meet the experts featured in this episode.

Special Thanks:

The International SeaKeepers Society
355 Alhambra Circle, Suite 1100
Coral Gables, FL 33134
(305) 448-7089

Fleet Miami
(305) 615-3190

Albany Bahamas

(242) 676-6010

Holiday Isle Oceanfront Resort
860 A1A Beach Boulevard
St. Augustine, FL 32080
(904) 471-2555 ext.101

Image Credits

Changing Seas would like to thank the following individuals and institutions who kindly allowed their footage, images and other media to be used in this production:

Nickelodeon’s “Spongebob Squarepants” used with permission by Nickelodeon. ©2016 Viacom Media Networks. All Rights Reserved. Nickelodeon, all related titles, characters and logos are trademarks owned by Viacom Media Networks, a division of Viacom International Inc.

Angela Rosenberg

Andrew Elliott

Eric Loker
University of New Mexico

Fernanda Azevedo
Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro

Henry M. Reiswig
University of Victoria

Joseph Ryan
University of Florida Whitney Lab

Kirt L. Onthank

National Cancer Institute

Robert Stone
NOAA Fisheries, Alaska Fisheries Science Center

Special Thanks:

Amanda Costaregni
Captain Aaron Erzinger
Captain Brandon Freeland
Todd C. Holmes
Cole Easson
Christian Vaterlaus
Chuck Messing
Christine Schonberg
Cristina Diaz
Derek Roderick
Eleni Voultsiadou
Fleet Captain Glen Allen
Franz Brümmer
Ingrid & Leonard Stuart
Jasper de Goeij
Jean Vacelet
Jim Cantonis
John Stevely
Kathy Kennedy
Laura Schejter
Leon Colebrooke
Libby Evans-Illidge
Manuel Maldonado
Marta Chiodin
Martina Milanese
Marzia Sidri
Mert Gokalp
Michelle Klautau
Nevelin Dean “Uncle Jakey”
Renata Manconi
Rob van Soest
Shirley Pomponi
Sofie Remijsen
Karen Richason
Stephen Stricker
Tatjana Bakran-Petricioli
Thierry Perez
Vasilis Kazakidis

Web Extras

Bahamian Reef Sharks

While filming an episode on sponges off New Providence Island, Bahamas, the Changing Seas crew suddenly found itself surrounded by a group of curious, yet calm Caribbean Reef Sharks plus a few nurse sharks. It was an incredible experience to be in the presence of so many of these beautiful fish! While divers occasionally encounter reef sharks on coral reefs, it is rare to see so many at once.


In the tropical waters off the coasts of Florida, the Bahamas and Caribbean, shallow water sponges are common sights on reefs. These filter feeders, which are animals, come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Scientists are studying the important ecological roles sponges play in the ecosystem.

Life in Red Bays, Andros Island, Bahamas

While shooting an episode on sponges, the Changing Seas team was given a tour of North Andros by local sponger Fritzgerald Taylor. Sponging is a tradition on the island, with three different commercially viable species collected on the Great Bahama Bank. The sponges are cleaned and dried before being sold to a wholesaler that ships them to markets all over the world.

Wrecks near New Providence Island, Bahamas

While filming an episode on sponges off New Providence Island, Bahamas, the Changing Seas crew and scientific research team happened upon two shipwrecks that were close to each other. These wrecks made for a great dive site, with some sponges encrusting the exterior of the ships. Does anyone know the names of these wrecks?

Funding for this episode of Changing Seas was provided by: